Nanjing is an ancient capital of six Chinese dynasties. Less than an hour away from Shanghai by the bullet train, western travellers often overlooked Nanjing when travelling in China. Located in Jiangsu Province, this beautiful city had seen the rise and fall of China.
Why Should You Visit Nanjing?
For my Taiwanese readers, Nanjing has everything to do with our politics and relationship with China. It’s a great place to get in touch with that piece of history. For my western readers, if you are interested in visiting some off the beaten path destinations in China, Nanjing needs to be on your list. During the days I was there, the number of westerners I saw was countable with my two hands. For everyone, Nanjing has beautiful nature, rich history, and at last but not the least: delicious food.
Yes. FOOD. One of my favourite travel topics.
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And Here is Why You Should Follow My Footsteps to Find Amazing Food in Nanjing:
While I was in Nanjing, if I wasn’t sightseeing, I was eating. I am a big foodie. And since I speak and read Mandarin (it’s my mother tongue), I was able to find the most authentic local street food and cuisines through the locals. Even the local street vendor was amazed about how I knew her stand.
So let’s do this! Shall we?
Nanjing (Nanking) Duck
Everyone has heard of Peking duck. What about Nanking duck? Called as “bǎn yā” in Mandarin, the way of making Nanking duck came from nearly 1500 years ago. People didn’t have enough rice because of wars, so they ate duck instead. To keep the ducks from going bad, they marinated the ducks in salt and other spices and then flattened it for storage. Beijing and Nanjing are rivalries when we talk about their duck cuisine. In fact, a real Nanjing local wouldn’t even eat Peking duck. They believed Peking duck came from Nanjing, and Nanjing makes it way better. (Of course, locals from Beijing would say otherwise!)
Today, you can easily find duck dishes or packaged bǎn yā on any streets in Nanjing. Xiánshuǐyā (鹹水鴨 / stewed salt-preserved duck) and roasted duck are the most common.
Jinhongxin Duck Shop（金宏興鴨子店）: Famous for their roasted duck and xiánshuǐyā, you can pick the part of the duck you want. I couldn’t stop myself from eating it while I was waiting for the train going back to Shanghai. It’s also kosher.
Where? Room 105, No. 5, Mingwalang, near Sanyuan Alley. (明瓦廊5號105室, 近三元巷)
Price? About 20RMB for 1/4 of a duck.
Duck Blood Glass Noodle Soup (Yā xiě fěnsī tāng 鴨血粉絲湯) and Juicy Duck Bun
I know the name seems awful, but it’s not as scary as it sounds. The broth is usually cooked with, well, duck. The soup consists assorted duck organs such as intestines, livers, lungs, duck blood, and glass noodle. you can find it almost local eateries in Nanjing.
And this delicious, juicy duck bun also had me. It’s a secret recipe from a restaurant named Nánjīng dà páidàng (南京大牌檔), so you can’t find it in other restaurants. Nánjīng dà páidàng is a Nanjing-based chain restaurant that has made its way to top cities in Asia, and it also got several locations in Nanjing. Ask anyone, and they can definitely point you the way. (There is one right at Fuzimiao.)
Burger Queen (皇后漢堡) is a street stand operates by a local Nanjing couple. The stand opens from 15.00 until late evenings. Burger Queen is not your ordinary burger. First, they claim their burger is organic (who knows) and has a taste from the northeast. Second, instead of using bread as buns, they use eggs. Third, they use cumin and spicy powder when grilling, so it actually tastes like food from Xinjiang, which is the region that’s on the north-west border of China. It’s a bit greasy, but I’ve never had anything like it.
Prepare yourself for a long wait because the locals usually take 4+ burgers per order. I waited for at least an hour just for one burger. There were many other customers came by and asked her how long was the wait, and she shut them down by telling them “it’s gonna take an hour or two,” so how long you will wait for your food depends on her mood and whether she likes you. (Well, at least that was what she told me.)
In the video, she was telling the customer to “get out!” in a joking way. I think he comes to buy her burgers quite often. In fact, everyone seemed to frequent this food stall.
It’s totally worth the wait because honestly, I wouldn’t find other places that would give you the authentic local Nanjing experience like the Burger Queen.
Where? 28-29 Renshouli, Bai Xia Qu, Nanjing.（仁寿里26号一幢楼旁边）
Price? 8 RMB for one burger.
I don’t usually bring souvenirs home when I travel, but I made an exception for Jasmine Melody. Jasmine Melody makes delicious and beautiful pastry with jasmine flowers. My friend visited Nanjing just a few days before me, and she regretted not buying any. I don’t like desserts that are too sweet, and their sweetness is just right. You can even find an entire flower petal inside of the pastry.
The box is gorgeous, which makes Jasmine Melody the perfect gift for friends and family. And guess what? I just found out their master chef is Taiwanese. No wonder the pastry looks a lot like the type we make in Taiwan. Haha.
Where? 125 Gu Tong Xiang, Lao Mengdong, Qinhuai Qu, Nanjing（秦淮区老門東箍桶巷125号）
Clay Oven Rolls （酥燒餅）
You can find clay oven rolls almost anywhere in China. In fact, it’s what Chinese often eat for breakfast. Also, you can easily tell a good one from a bad one, and Xiao-Zheng’s crispy oven rolls were some of the best oven rolls I’ve ever had. First, it’s made on-site, and warm oven rolls are the best. It was also insanely cheap – 1~2RMB for one roll! Second, they got eight different stuffings, namely sweet olive, rose and red bean paste, pork, scallion, dry-picked mustard, radish, and sesame. I had dry-picked mustard and sesame, and the later one was my favourite.
Where? Fuzimiao Pingjiangfu Road, near Yaojia Alley (Metro line 3, Fuzimiao Station exit 2) 夫子廟平江府路姚家巷子口 (近地鐵3號線夫子廟站2号出口)
Baked Pear in a Clay Pot (紫砂烤梨)
A healthy and famous Chinese dessert, baked pear in a clay pot is originated from the Ming and Qing Dynasty. As the capital of Ming Dynasty, you surely need to try it when you come to Nanjing. The one I ordered was cooked with tangerine peels (陳皮) and Chinese hawthorn (山楂). Both ingredients are quite common to use in Chinese medicine, and it’s a great dessert to have if you find yourself under the weather, or simply want to warm yourself up on a cold evening.
Where? Fuzimiao, 68 Dashibei Street (夫子庙大石坝街68号)
And these are only a tip of the iceberg! Nanjing has so much to offer when it comes to food. Have you been to Nanjing and have you tried any of these?
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Also published on Medium.